Saturday, 29 August 2015

Specialist Printing Equipment and Materials (Offences) Act 2015

I noticed this new law that came in to effect in May this year [here].

On the face of it, it simply makes it an offence to sell specialist printing equipment to people where you know they intend to break any law using it. It allows for a 10 year prison sentence and/or fines.

Sensible law?

Well, I think not. Even if it works entirely as intended then what really is the point of this law? How would anyone selling such equipment actually "know" that the customer is intending to break the law? I cannot see any requirement to "make enquiries" as to the intended use of the equipment. I cannot even see a "might reasonably expect that the intended use is not lawful". The wording is that the seller "knows" the equipment will, or is intended to, be used to break the law. How would you prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that someone selling a printer actually knew the buyer was intending to break the law?

However, in my non legal opinion, the drafting of this is really not very good leading to several other problems.

What is a specialist printer?

I bet you would assume that it is things like the SIM card printer I mentioned, which can even do "invisible" UV printing that only shows under a UV light, and can have attachments to include a hologram laminate layer. Clearly that is a tad "specialist". However, the definition covers printers that can do any ID documents, or Travel documents, or Entry documents. Actually, it is designed, adapted, or simply "capable" of making a relevant document.

Even so, that sounds like "specialist" equipment, i.e. stuff that could print a driving licence or passport. Well, yes, and no. It goes on to describe these, and includes any document that is a travel or entry ticket. So if you can print off your flight eTicket on a normal printer, or print the entry ticket to the beer festival, on a "normal printer", then that means every normal printer is a specialist printer because it is "capable" of printing such a document. OK, many such tickets have a bar code, so maybe the old daisy wheel printer I have in my loft would not count (though it would be capable of printing a QR code using full stops).

Also, the intended criminal use just has to be something using the printer, it does not have to be something using the printer to make these documents. It specifically says any criminal offence under UK (or non UK) law is covered. So if a printer is "capable" of printing any entry or travel ticket, it is covered, and if the seller knows it will be used in an way to commit any offence then they are guilty of an offence by selling it.


If some company ordered a printer using an order form or letterhead which did not include the necessary details as defined in the Companies Act (e.g. company registration number and registered office), and perhaps when ordering or enquiring they even said to the seller that they need a new printer that can print their letterheads, like this one. Then the seller would know that they intend to break the law (Companies Act) using that printer. It is a printer capable of printing entry or travel tickets, so is "specialist printing equipment", so the seller could get a 10 year prison sentence for that?

Not just printers!

It gets worse, the specialist printing equipment not only covers any normal printer, but also "any device, machinery or apparatus and any wire or cable, together with any software used with it".

So just selling software, or a USB lead, that is used with a normal printer to someone that you know is intending to break any law using a printer makes you a criminal.

Even worse, it covers materials used to make such documents, so if you sell paper you could be covered by this!


I can't help feeling that our government like making laws that can, in fact, encompass almost any citizens, just in case they feel like locking someone up.

Or, perhaps, conspiracy theories aside, this may be an example of how technically inept the government are, even in areas as simple as printing!


  1. "even in areas as simple as printing"
    Though as you are proving, printing isn't a simple area at all, even if people think it is!

  2. Make everyone a criminal and you have a police state. Win (for Government)

  3. I don't think this makes everyone a criminal - if the test is that you know the equipment will be used to commit a crime it will be a difficult one to prove if you are not personally acquainted with the buyer and are acting in the course of your normal business or domestic activities.

    I'm also not clear what this really adds the normal aiding and abetting stuff, especially for more serious crimes (such as fraud and lets face it that's a pretty likely use of "specialist printing equipment" if the intent is criminal) which is covered by part 2 of the Serious Crimes act 2007 which specifically makes an offense of "encouraging or assisting" a serious crime.

    1. Quite, so pointless in the first place (how it prove you knew buyers intentions), covered by existing law (aiding and abetting), and so badly drafted as to cover all ordinary printers, paper, network and USB cables being supplied, so not even covering the right things if ever it was enforceable.

  4. Why is HM government getting so bad at drafting new laws? Don't they have the money to hire someone with a brain even if they only have a load of duffers internally?

  5. I think that Adrian's comment about the issue of travel documents, and how this turns the definition of "specialist printer" simply into "any printer" is a very pertinent one. One might argue that, clearly, by using the term "specialist", the law must mean something other than a common, everyday printer, since, otherwise, it would have just said (or included) "a printer", but it is not without its difficulties.

    I am surprised that it also only covers those who *supply* printers, rather than someone who offers a print-on-demand service of the same nature. However, this may be an issue of pragmatism: currently, no-one is doing this, and so there is no proven case for needing a law prohibiting it.

    I am less persuaded that limiting it to "knows that the equipment will be or is intended to be used for the purposes of criminal conduct" is a bad thing.

    I would agree that it is difficult to prove, but it is this very specific offence which the legislation sets out to prohibit: the "knowingly" selling of such a printer. The explanatory notes to the legislation set out a little bit about its background (, and it appears to be a result of the MPS's "Project Genesius", which "identified that the police find it difficult to prosecute those who knowingly supply this equipment to criminals, because of the absence of a targeted offence." So, yes, proving "knowingly" might be very difficult, but that it exactly what it was designed to cover, rather than a result of poorly thought-through drafting.

    There is the also a benefit to this of criminal offences being tightly cast. Had it been "or reasonably should have known" or some such formulation, it mandates a degree of due diligence, and so places a burden on a business selling printers. If this was considered a necessary element to achieve the goal of the legislation, then perhaps it would have been a proportionate way to do so (although I am not immediately persuaded that that's the case) but, since it does not appear to be needed at the moment, not introducing an extra obligation on businesses is a good thing.

    (Why a specific offence over "encouraging or assisting", I am not sure, but, since a slightly different degree of knowledge / intention is required, perhaps there is a good reason for it. Similarly, there is a simple penalty for this — up to 10 years, or a fine, or both — rather than the penalty for which he would be liable for the offence which he intended to assist or encourage.)

  6. On your last point, does this create the situation where the supply of the printer might attract a more severe penalty that the commission of the crime itself? If so is this situation common in English law?